I have had a longtime fascination with wolves and a love affair with dogs. Having read a lot about this topic, I wanted to catch up on some of the more recent discoveries by scientists, including the ever-popular Mark Derr, whose articles can be found at the Psychology Today website.
I owe much of this information to various articles by Derr. He has several books that may appeal to you about wolves into dogs and just dogs. He blogs on the Psychology Today site, if you’re interested in following him.
His books about wolves and dogs include “How the Dog Became the Dog” (2011), “A Dog’s History of America”
(2013) and “Dog’s Best Friend: Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship” (1997).
Articles by Derr that can be googled include “Of Glaciers, Wolves, and Humans,” “A Wolf in Dog’s Clothing” and “How Dogs Evolved into Our Best Friends.”
PetHelpful.com has two articles of relevance: “How Are Dogs Any Different Than Wolves” by Mark Dos Amjos, DVM, and “The Differences Between Dogs and Wolves” by Adrienne Farricelli.
The prevailing theory of dogs descending from wolves is that the less aggressive wolves were not afraid to approach humans’ garbage and eventually became social enough to hang around humans, thereby allowing the humans to pick and choose the ones they wanted to breed, which resulted in a workable relationship with them.
Humans learned hunting techniques from wolves and wolves eventually joined with them to procure food. Not all researchers agree with this.
Derr’s views differ from a generally accepted view that dogs were basically self-domesticated. There remains fierce dissension among scientists as to how wolves transitioned into dogs. Wolf pups raised by humans? Humans scattering lean meat and attracting friendlier wolves and eventually hanging around their camps? (It seems that hunter-gatherers could only eat so much lean meat as too much made them sick and so there were plenty of leftovers.)
Derr’s position is that you can’t leave out the human element, and the creation of dogs is as much a cultural as a biological event that changed both humans and human cultures.
He believes it is probable that humans formed loose alliances with wolves for thousands of years before true dogs appeared. Wolves tolerated human followers to prey and since wolves often have trouble killing their prey, the humans finished it off. They tolerated being followed by humans to make the end result easier.
As long as humans allow wolves to approach them first, wolves are amenable to them in a peaceful way. However, not all animals make that effort nor do all humans appreciate the proffered friendship.
I have obviously only skimmed the surface of this topic. The books mentioned above will go into detail about Derr’s theories and other scientists’ theories as well. Suffice to say it’s a very deep topic and ideas change as more about both animals – dogs and wolves – is discovered.
Judy Lore is an Ark-Valley Humane Society volunteer columnist.